Andrew Cuomo and Chris Cuomo stand together on the red carpet for the Tribeca Film Festival

CNN’s Chris Cuomo Couldn’t Cover His Brother Andrew’s Harassment Allegations so He Secretly Advised Him Instead

It's about ethics in brothers journalism.
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Over the last few months, as sexual harassment allegations piled up against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, hs brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, has refrained from covering the story. In fact, to avoid a conflict of interest, Chris Cuomo has (mostly) stayed away from covering his brother since he first joined the network in 2013. For some reason, an exception was made during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Andrew Cuomo has appeared on his brother’s show multiple times, usually to do some snarky brother banter about who their mom loves more, like a little skit injected into the middle of a global pandemic.

But when it comes to the harassment allegations, journalistic ethics have been put back into place. At least, on camera, they have. It turns out that Chris Cuomo has been involved in shaping his brother’s media strategy in response to the accusations.

According to the Washington Post, the CNN star “joined a series of conference calls that included the Democratic governor, his top aide, his communications team, lawyers and a number of outside advisers.”

In general, journalists are not supposed to be involved in politics, and the close family relationship adds another level of questionable ethics. Defenders of the Cuomos say that it’s impossible for the brothers not to advise each other, given their close relationship and mutual trust and respect.

“The governor only trusts about five people,” one adviser told WaPo. “So that’s why Chris is on these calls.”

The brothers sometimes take fishing trips together, others said, with the implication being that they confide in each other and offer each other professional advice.

But there is a world of difference between discussing work on a weekend fishing trip and actively engaging with strategy sessions alongside lawyers and communications teams.

The Washington Post writes:

Inside CNN on Thursday, several employees described a sense of unease about the role Cuomo played in advising his brother, with one calling his decision to do so “really upsetting.” Another person said that in a political climate in which CNN journalists come under intense scrutiny — particularly on the right — having one of their own offering advice to a major Democratic figure felt like a self-inflicted wound. “There’s a general sense of frustration,” said one on-air reporter, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations. “I don’t think anyone was surprised they spoke about this, given they are family, but calls with lawyers and staff . . . wow.”

In addition to being ethically murky, from the sound of it, Chris Cuomo also just had terrible advice for his brother:

The cable news anchor encouraged his brother to take a defiant position and not to resign from the governor’s office, the people said. At one point, he used the phrase “cancel culture” as a reason to hold firm in the face of the allegations, two people present on one call said.

We don’t know if this was before or after Andrew Cuomo cited “cancel culture” in a press conference, but that was a really strange thing to say about the more than half a dozen women who have accused him of various forms of sexual misconduct, and he got appropriately dragged for it.

Although that’s not even the worst defense the governor has come up with. That would be this:

Maybe his brother had nothing to do with coming up with that line of defense, but it seems to make it clear that pretty much everyone involved with advising Andrew Cuomo must have had terrible judgment, most of all himself.

In response to the Washington Post’s story, Chris Cuomo offered an apology, saying advising his brother was “a mistake” and that it “will not happen again.”

“When my brother’s situation became turbulent, being looped into calls with other friends of his and advisors that did include some of his staff, I understand why that was a problem for CNN,” he said.

CNN also acknowledged that the phone calls were “inappropriate” but the network said it wouldn’t take any disciplinary action against Cuomo.

(image: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.